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op amps for audio

Posted 23rd January 2012 at 06:36 AM by rjm

Douglas Self on op amps for audio, which I read before in slightly different form, on another web site somewhere, many years ago... today was a refresher course.

Excerpts from op amps in small signal audio design, by D. Self [Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4].

I suppose I should get with the times and start using the LM4562 seeing as it is available in DIP8 now. (I had this memory that it was only SOIC, go figure...) Pity it's dual only. On the other hand, that leads to some neat ideas, like a compact version of the Sapphire amp for example, or the X-reg.

I am struck by how few choices we really have when it comes to practical op amps for audio in single DIP8 packages. There is the NE5534, TL071 and TL051, the OPA134, the OPA604, and OPA27, OPA627. Maybe the AD797 but I have yet to see the point. Given that the TL1071 and derivatives are outdated and replaced essentially by the OPA134, and given the excessive cost (and questionable sonic benefit)...
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The new system, up and running.

Posted 22nd January 2012 at 10:52 AM by rjm
Updated 25th January 2012 at 07:57 AM by rjm

So now we have the model 0247 DAC/preamp/headphone amplifier and model 0347 power amplifier in the main system. That's the old Denon DP-2000 TT, Phonoclone 3, and Onkyo D-605SR speakers.

The gain of the 0347 is 30 dB, so with the 0247 doing duty as a preamp the overall gain is a tad high, but it's perfectly useable. I'll look at the passive preamp options (including the model 0447) at a later date.

Anyhow, the big news is it completely destroys the non-inverting LM3875 Gainclone I have been using for the last decade, so badly, in fact, I'm starting to wonder if my Gainclone was busted. In comparison with the 0347 it sounds like a distorted, uncontrolled mess.

Since my speakers are really very modest in quality (though at 82dB and 6 ohms, a bit of a rough load) I wasn't expecting much difference one way the other, so this comes as a severe shock.

Unfortunately I'm not within reach of a good reference system to give the 0347 a real evaluation....
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47 Labs Treasure 0347 : trials and tribulations

Posted 20th January 2012 at 11:48 AM by rjm

And not even sure what a tribulation is, but I'm sure I've had at least one building this amp.

Like the 0247 it's not so much difficult as it is painstaking hard work. The output transistors have to be mounted "just so" so the boards screw to the case properly, the wiring of the thermal protection transistors and gluing them to the output devices is tricky and easy to mess up.

I triple-checked and was rewarded by, it seems, error free boards. I messed up and wired the mute switch incorrectly though (the photos show it wrong, in case you come across this blog post looking for help) and I think the switch has a fault somehow as L and R channels appear to me mixed together. Taming the offsets gave me considerable grief but I think its all OK now.

Tomorrow I'll hook it up to the speakers and see what happens.
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A different design aesthetic.

Posted 17th January 2012 at 10:52 AM by rjm
Updated 25th January 2012 at 10:21 PM by rjm

I like the concept of appearance in high-end audio. I mean, where the look of the equipment makes a statement about what it's all about inside.

The 0347 is proportioned like a vintage tube receiver, but in miniature. It even has the lit, transparent front panel where the radio tuning strip would have resided. The heavy grey hammertone and very simple, basic hardware are reminiscent of Heathkit or Dynaco. In short, the appearance evokes the spirit of a simpler, more innocent age of vintage hifi without being a slavish replica.
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Another package in the mail...

Posted 14th January 2012 at 10:30 AM by rjm

The 47 Labs "Treasure" stereo amplifier kit model 0367 has just arrived here at RJM Audio central command.

61,500 yen delivered, a tad more than the model 0247 headphone amplifier / DAC. Basically lose the volume control and DAC board, gain a bigger transformer and a thick aluminum bottom plate that serves as the heatsink... the amplifier circuit itself is almost identical, just with a slightly bulked-up output stage and the addition of certain safety considerations such as fine tune-able bias current and thermal protection for the output transistors.

Which makes an unusual circuit for a power amplifier: the output stage is a unity gain current buffer running open loop. For a headphone amp that's justafiable because the bias current is such that the amp will almost always be running in class A. For a power amp rated 40 W into 4 ohms, it's class AB.

Mr. Tsukahara seems pretty pleased with the result though, and I am anxious to try it...
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This vs. that.

Posted 12th January 2012 at 11:41 PM by rjm
Updated 26th January 2012 at 05:42 AM by rjm

47 Labs 0247 vs. RJM Audio Sapphire

I wasn't even aware that the folks at 47 Labs were developing a headphone amplifier until after the Sapphire was finished, and I'm sure they didn't know what I was working on, so it's all the more remarkable just how similar the two designs are. Two separate answers from two separate people sharing the same general design philosophy.

Similarities:

- Solid state op amp voltage stage front end and solid state push-pull buffer running open loop for the output stage.
- Gain of 5-6x (14-16 dB)
- 20-30 mA bias current in the output stage.
- All BJT circuit** (see footnote)
- Use of "diamond buffer" circuit element. (Albeit in very different ways)
- 10 V voltage rails, split supply.

Differences:

- My voltage stage is an OPA134, or any 8 pin DIP op amp IC. 47 Labs voltage stage is a fully discrete current feedback op amp with a diamond buffer...
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47 labs 0247 : done, tested, working

Posted 12th January 2012 at 12:18 PM by rjm

A few bumps along the way:

1. Soldered one of the caps in backwards. Removed and fixed, fortunately before power was applied to the board.

2. Soldered one of the transistors into the wrong place. Removed and fixed.

3. Dead channel on power up. Bad solder joint on the emitter of one the output transistors. Eyesight not what it used to be. Found on second inspection, fixed.

4. DAC board not level with cutout on front panel, had to use washers to raise it to the correct height.

Other than that, things went smoothly enough, though I spent more time with tweezers routing lead wires than is ideal for a commercially released audio kit. It's not so much difficult as it is painstaking - and I have quite a lot of experience doing these things so I imagine I had an easier time of it on the whole than most will.

The final result however is aesthetically quite pleasing, well worth the effort and expense. It is...
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Progress so far

Posted 6th January 2012 at 12:02 PM by rjm
Updated 7th January 2012 at 02:00 AM by rjm

The first stage is getting the power supply installed and running. That's the little board by the transformer, which just has the diodes, main filter capacitors, and isolation resistors on the voltage rails. The case top lid is transparent plexiglass, so the internals are lit by three white LEDs to show off, and light the control labels, which are printed on the top lid rather than the front and back sides of the case.

You'll notice I have followed the instructions and removed the plastic covers on the electrolytic capacitors.

For the record I do think they sound better that way, I just normally can't be bothered as, for example, my phonoclone 3 boards have 28 of them and I consider the exposed metal surfaces a bit of a safety issue as well.
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47 Labs 0247 unboxing, part deux

Posted 5th January 2012 at 10:29 AM by rjm

My kit was missing the amplifier circuit boards! So many other neat stuff distracted me from this vital fact!

So far I've wired the AC power line components, transformer, and the power supply board. It's slow progress, mainly for wanting to be sure of getting it right the first time. It's dense and fiddly, desoldering stuff in there to fix a ****-up would not be pleasant work at all.
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Old

Five-times-bandwidth

Posted 3rd January 2012 at 04:44 PM by rjm

If we accept that conventional wisdom that the audio bandwidth extends from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, a good rule of thumb for the f(-3 dB) high and low cutoff points of the frequency response of each audio circuit element is 5x the bandwidth, or 4 Hz to 100 kHz. In practice most designs tend to shift that range a little to the higher frequencies, so perhaps 5 Hz - 200 kHz, or 4 - 250 kHz.

Personally I "tune" my circuits to 4 Hz. That is, the time constants are adjusted to about 4 ms. Capacitance is usually cheap enough to go even longer, but the influence on sonics is typically net negative.

The high frequency side is more interesting, since many circuit elements naturally run into the megahertz range, the the question is do you actively try to prevent that, and if so, where and how?

The biggest issue is bypassing: a small value electrolytic (100 uF) is probably fine up to 100 kHz or so, but quite useless at 2 Mhz. The textbook solution is...
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